Monday, December 18, 2006

It's a tight squeezeWho are we kidding? For the last several years the finals at College Champies have been held in a football stadium. A nearby high school usually, and that is a great kind of venue for that event: the right size for our attendance (so far); facilities in place (restrooms, parking -- unlike polo complexes) to accomodate crowds; and more convertible to the promising advent of television broadcasting (again, unlike polo fields). I'm told we're looking around Sarasota for other venues to hold Sunday's Nationals games. But you know what? There are permanent metal fixtures in place 120 yards apart. Hey wait a sec. That's the rear boundary for the end zone, you may be thinking. You would be correct. At these facilities we already shorten the fields out of safety's necessity, as we should. So why don't we codify this and have everyone play the same dimensions? Let's shorten the field. I know not every football field will have truly permanent field goal posts. And lest you think I'm taking one facet of one tournament per year and extrapolating it into changing the status quo, let's consider the other consequences of the following adjustments:

Shorten the end zones by 5 yards apiece. Twenty-five is deep, and I have mentioned in the past how that allows for some great plays to develop. I am a fan of deep end zones, but I think 20 yards would still be deep enough. I also recognize that this creeps towards Goaltimate and other versions of short-field ultimate that I generally do not advocate, but it is shortening end zones by five yards, not ... letting Germany "annex" parts of Europe.

(As to the safety issue -- scooting away from a goal post by fifteen feet is the absolute minimum I would feel comfortable moving the back line of an end zone.)

Shorten the field of play by 10 yards. Same problem (creeping) as above, and aggravated, but with the added benefit of everyone being able to huck. I know strong throwers have rightfully been valued on a 70-yard pitch, but they will still be valued on one that's 10 yards shorter. Perhaps moreso, as accuracy and creativity will be rewarded. And let's be honest. How often do you see hucks from goal line to goal line? Occasionally, but it's not like it's a regimented part of your offense. And hucks will be as hard or harder because the cushion in the end zone will not be as generous.

(This now pulls our rear boundaries thirty feet from any football fixture. That's pretty good, safety-wise.)

Scoring may become quicker and more spectator-friendly. I'm pretty indifferent to this, but if it did indeed make the game more watchable then I would support that I guess. I understand few of you will be convinced. So why else should we consider shortening the field?

It will become easier to tape for broadcast/DVD. If your field is 20 yards shorter a central tower camera has to worry less about the tennis-umpire feel. And every camera stays the same distance from the field (whatever it was prior) but is up to 20 yards closer to a play on the other side of the field. Pretty good deal, no?

You reduce your needed acreage by 20%. At large, flat sports facilities (e.g., polo fields), you need 800 square yards less, per field. That's one-fifth of the acres you need! That could make or break your ability to host a tournament at a given location.

Soccer stadiums. These are not found as often as football stadiums, but occasionally we have tournaments hosted at soccer-specific stadiums. Official soccer dimensions dictate the playing field is 300­-360 feet long. And occasionally we will have a game at a stadium with permanent goals or post-holes. So we can kill this bird with the same stone. This will not come up very often, if at all, but just something to consider. We will fill a giant soccer stadium (UCSB, Columbus Crew, etc.) before we will fill a giant football stadium.

Addendum: I'm an idiot. We use soccer fields all the time, though maybe not stadiums, and they are rarely 120 yards long. Numerous facilities that are used annually -- Charlotte's Queen City Tune-Up fields, the Blaine complex, several college nationals sites recently -- are all primarily soccer facilities. Just some more good reasons to shrink the field.

Some football stadiums, as the case was in Columbus this year, leave their field goals up year-round. However, this is not strictly about adapting to football fields. Some take the uprights down, leaving a metal post a couple yards out the back. And some don't leave anything but a metal hole in the ground. But there are several reasons besides safety I believe the sport stands to benefit from shorter fields. They will make the game faster and potentially more watchable with more hucks and quicker scoring. It will make television and film production much easier. And fitting into 100 yards dramatically increases the number of venues we can compete at -- for size, cost, and a host of other reasons.

Change will not happen quickly. And it shouldn't -- consistency is an important tenet to build upon. But this is an adjustment that will have significant and positive changes for the sport; it should be seriously considered by those shaping ultimate's future and its rules.